Bereaved, invisible – Israel's families of civilian bereavement - opinion

We are all pained at the 40,000 children, teens and young adults who die each year and leave behind parents, siblings and families.

People mourn the loss of life as they hold a vigil for the victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2018 (photo credit: JOHN ALTDORFER/REUTERS)
People mourn the loss of life as they hold a vigil for the victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2018
(photo credit: JOHN ALTDORFER/REUTERS)
 You know how it is in the great universal stories, the kind that build up to a crescendo of sound, emotion and increased heartbeats for those who lend their ears; the kind that make you want to help the storyteller.
As a nation, such awe-inspiring stories are scattered throughout our history: the Exodus from Egypt, the trek through the wilderness, the giving of the Torah, tales from the prophets, stories of heroism from our long exile and our epic return, and the establishment as a modern nation in the Land of Israel. These stories remind us of precisely who we are. The Remembrance Days for victims of the Holocaust or fallen soldiers of the IDF and victims of terrorism do not let us forget our loved ones. That is as it should be.
On the flip side of the coin, there are families in pain who have lost their loved ones in ways that are not marked on our nation’s days of remembrance, and are not celebrated through an epic national story. These are the families of civilian bereavement.
In each such family there are bereaved parents, siblings and members of the broader family – all of whom are dealing with the loss of a relative who has undergone a variety of tragic circumstances: accidents, illness or any other causes that we don’t want to know about.
We are all pained at the 40,000 children, teens and young adults who die each year and leave behind parents, siblings and families. These families have nowhere to turn for emotional support, and the pit of family pain that has opened with their passing does not close on its own. The relatives of the dead are left alone, unrecognized by society as victims of bereavement. They receive no official support, even simple recognition of their pain.
When my daughter Dassi died following a stubborn struggle with cancer, I began to understand what it means to be invisible. A lot of strength and support is necessary in order to rebuild what has come apart during a child’s illness. Despite the broad support and embrace we received from our communities, once the shiva mourning period ended, we felt quite alone with the immense pain that suddenly descended upon us.
The difference between the embrace during the illness and shiva and the stage afterward was huge. People are worried about approaching bereaved parents. They don’t know what to say. Yes, it’s complex, but those are very significant times when someone needs to be there to give the proper support.
Civilian bereavement has not been given a place in the Israeli public discourse in almost any form. But unfortunately, such bereavement does exist. Hundreds and thousands of families who have lost children remain alone. That’s how it is when something remains undefined and there is no epic inspirational story. Yes, there is discrimination in civilian bereavement.
FOLLOWING DASSI’S shiva, I had the idea to create an organization that would provide guidance for families who have experienced civilian bereavement. That idea came to fruition six years ago when we established Yakir Li – Aiding the Bereaved With Action and Caring.
Yakir Li’s flagship project is called “The Eighth Day.” It is run in conjunction with several municipal and community organizations. We meet families and try to understand with them what they need on the day after, on the eighth day. Our aim is for bereaved families – all of them – to be able to recover with dignity and stand on their feet.
When there is no universal recognition, no one knows how to “talk about the pain,” or whether just talking about it might make the pain worse. Sometimes, we just need to “be there” and that’s it, and if the heart opens and the pain comes to the surface, to be available and provide an inclusive embrace. Sometimes the family does not have the strength to even figure out how to arrange for a gravestone. We are there to provide the necessary support and guidance during the initial weeks and months.
Beyond the necessary attention and recognition of the pain, we bring together resources to provide subsidized emotional treatment across the country, and for those who find it difficult, we provide financial help.
Public awareness is the start of gaining broad public support for these families. We want there to be broad recognition of the pain of bereaved parents, veterans and new, who join this circle. We want them to know from the first moment that they are not alone in this.
One of our initiatives is a public conversation about society’s place in civilian bereavement. Through exceptional cooperation with members of Knesset who have taken up the cause, we have led to the passage of several legislative amendments: When a child dies, the child allowance payment given to the parents disappears immediately. Under a new law, every family that loses a child will receive a one-time grant to help it get back on its feet during the dark days that follow.
Another law, passed with the help of the National Insurance Institute, provides professional rehabilitation for parents who lost their jobs while they sat with their child during illness. These are small things that almost no one ever thought about.
A third law we were involved with enables bereaved parents who have reached retirement age to remain at their jobs for another four years.
There are many other issues that the families raise. We listen. We learn. We approach government agencies, and we act.
This Shabbat, we will be holding the third annual civilian bereavement awareness Shabbat. This week’s Torah portion recalls the deaths of Aaron’s two sons, and what comes after as he stood in silence. We hope that by giving this symbolic space, these families will no longer need to stand in silence.
To get involved, please send an email to [email protected] Pini Rabinovich’s daughter Dassi, z’l, died of cancer 25 years ago.